The European Accessibility Act and Irish Law

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The purpose of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) is to ensure products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. The EAA achieves this by providing the minimum accessibility requirements for all products and services that fall within its domain. It will go into effect on June 28, 2025.

Now the EAA been implemented into Irish Law. This is important as many American-based companies are global and may do business in the European Union, including Ireland.

Hello, everyone. This is Thomas Logan from Equal Entry, and I’m here with Ken Nakata of Converge Accessibility. In this episode, we’re going to talk about the country Ireland adopting the European Accessibility Act (EAA) into its law and the potential implications. So, starting off, Ken, what is the European Accessibility Act, the EAA?

What Is the EAA?

Ken Nakata: The EAA is a bit different from a traditional accessibility law like what us Americans expect. It covers products and services in member states within certain industries and within certain types of technology. It’s not like the Americans with Disabilities Act, for instance, that covers all these different possible forms of discrimination against people with disabilities.

Instead, it covers specific technologies, and it seems to, cover primarily electronic technologies. And it also covers the services of specific industries. So for instance, banking and telecom and things like that are very much covered under the EAA. And so it’s a bit of a mishmash, actually.

I think it was very forward-looking in the sense that they thought when they passed it, that so many goods and services are being provided through electronic means that this is something that we really should be covering. I’m a little bit wary of it as an American because I think that a lot of European countries could be going further in terms of their general non-discrimination requirements.

And that basic framework doesn’t seem to exist yet. And it doesn’t seem to be laid out in the EAA. But anyway, it requires that organizations that are within the member state that adopts the EAA. It means that they have to make sure that their websites and their electronic technologies and the way that they use them don’t discriminate against people with disabilities

Thomas Logan: My understanding is the EU has 27 member states. So, Ireland is just one of the 27. They have to do this by June 28th, 2025. Have any other countries done this so far?

Ken Nakata: Few have like, I believe Estonia and Denmark were announced to have done that. And just by researching around, we found out that Italy has as well.

It’s a little bit of a weird system, especially if you’re an American lawyer or you’re used to the American way of doing things. Because we’d like to think that the EU is like the federal government, this overarching body that runs parallel to what the laws in each country are, and it’s not that at all.

It’s remarkably confusing trying to figure out how things end up getting adopted in the EU because there’s lots of different layers, and they keep going back and forth. And then ultimately when they do sign off on something that’s not entirely clear to an American lawyer, has it really been adopted?

Well, once you find out that it has been adopted, then all the member states then have to go along and implement it nationally. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a choice in doing it. But, if they don’t meet that June 28th, 2025 deadline, it’s not entirely clear that the EU even has much leverage over the member state to make sure that they ultimately adopt it.

So, it’s a bit of a weird system, I have to say.

What Are the Implications of Ireland Being an Adopter?

Thomas Logan: And I have to agree that, again, invite everyone’s comments to our thoughts on this, but my perspective has always been, that’s great that you say that you have to do this, but I think we’d say the teeth here in the US. What’s actually the implication if you don’t meet the guidelines and especially if you’re putting this into law, still you put it to law?

What does that mean? Does that mean that something will actually happen? What are some penalties for not complying with the EAA as it’s documented?

Ken Nakata: Each of the member states is required to have some enforcement authority for this as well as implementing and enforcing other EU regulations.

And so, Ireland has authority within Ireland to make sure that the EAA is enforced. And, so the EAA authorizes the member states to seek fines or to go after organizations in their jurisdiction that don’t comply with the EAA. But the amount of the fines, and the type of penalty that’s going to be imposed, the level of the severity, in other words, is very much dependent upon the locality.

Thomas Logan: Is there any precedent or famous case that’s happened under this yet, or is it still too early to discuss that?

Ken Nakata: Think it’s still too early, but I haven’t exactly been following each of the member states, following obviously 26 countries, each of which speaks different languages is a little bit challenging.

So, I guess we’ll hear about it through the grapevine from some of our colleagues in those member states.

What Should Businesses Be Doing?

Thomas Logan: And do you think now looking in 2024, like if I was a business, maybe not even based in the EU, but I’m going to be selling my product in the EU. What should I be doing now?

Ken Nakata: Yeah, I think that for anybody that’s doing business in the EU, it makes sense to use the EAA as another reason for why we should be making our web services WCAG compliant.

Ken Nakata: Well, that’s where the fines come in. We’ll see how seriously they actually take it.

One of the funny things about the accessibility requirements in the EU, I think is sometimes how they’re adopted outside of the EU. Like for instance the main accessibility standard for electronic and information technologies is EN 301 549, of course.

And that standard has been adopted in Australia, and it’s also being seriously looked at by other governments like Canada, for instance. And there, when those countries adopt it, it’s just effective immediately, and they don’t have to go through this member state adoption process, and a possible dilution of the standard by the member states.

It just is as it is.

What Penalties Exist for Companies Selling into the EU?

Thomas Logan: Right. And by dilution as well, I think the fines or the prison, wow, there’s an opportunity to go to prison for not complying with the EAA. But that kind of remains to be seen, right? There’s no case precedent to say, “Yes, someone went to prison for not following the EAA.”

It’s not in law yet.

Ken Nakata: Exactly. Each member state enforces laws differently. So if you’re a civil law country, it’s not uncommon for you to include the possibility of prison time for violating requirements. That’s what Italy did in their so-called Stanca’s Law. And I don’t know of anybody who’s ever gone to prison because their website was inaccessible, but it is what it is.

Each country has their own legal enforcement mechanisms.

Thomas Logan: Hey, I would love it for someone to go to prison for not being accessible. I bet a lot of people watching this YouTube or listening to this podcast, you might agree too. Wouldn’t that be great?

Ken Nakata: I agree.

Thomas Logan: Repercussions. Maybe to end, I’d just like to show a quick demo of how you can inform yourself of what laws actually are existing in the EU.

As we mentioned, there’s 27 different countries that could be ratifying or approving this law, but this website here, I’m going to share my screen.

So here’s an article from the European Disability Forum talking about 24 member states running late on the EAA. And in their website, they actually link to the EUR-Lex platform.

Immediately, as soon as you link into the site, it’s not interpretable. Something I think a lot of us are familiar with government.

I would love to see like a very clear explanation of the European Accessibility Act, just laid out here. But here we just see a bunch of numbers, and you see all the different member state country codes. You like to different pdfs. It’s pretty difficult to interpret.

So, let’s support our European neighbors in making this more easy to access. And I think it’s great that there’s a progress happening, but it’s not something that’s very easy to interpret as an outsider of Europe. We’re trying to understand what’s going on with the legislation process in Europe. It’s not easy to interpret.

Hey, maybe there’s a better link for us to be investigating. If you know more than we do about Europe, which is probably likely, give us a comment and let’s continue the conversation. We’d love to hear from you. Add any comments into the social media posts where you found this article or on our website at Equal Entry if you found this on our blog.

We’d love to hear from you and let’s keep working on making technology and the law more accessible. Thank you.

References

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